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Study ShaS!


No, not the political Israeli party, but rather the Talmud. Sha”S is an abbreviation of the Hebrew “shisha sedarim,” six orders, which relates to the six orders of the Talmud, namely Zera’im (on agriculture), Mo’ed (the festivals and holy times), Nashim (on women), Neziqin (damages, typical criminal law), Qodashim (the Holies), and Tehorot (purities).

A new initiative to strengthen the study of the Talmud, has been created by Sammy Sacks, Elon Weintraub, Brian Wartell,Atara Chouake, and Shmueli Englard, with the help of Scott Silver and Binyomin Burke, six American college students dedicated to the study of the Talmud.

Basically what they want to do, is to promote the study of the Talmud on their campus, but since they have gone internet it is possible for the rest of the world to follow their progress, and even participate in it. And I think we should, at least as much as we are able to.

From what I can see so far, what they are offering is both a systematic study, giving the students some order in what is being studied, explanations on what is being studied, as well as how to study the material at hand, material they also provide on their website and Youtube channel.

Personally I always appreciate new and serious initiatives in studies of Jewish texts, particularly the Talmud, and I would encourage the rest of you out there on participating in their efforts.

To add to that I would like to give some thoughts on why one should study Talmud. First off, to get rid of some of the misconceptions there exist about the Talmud, both as text and as of message. One of the major misconceptions I know of, is that the Talmud is a book of law. It is true that there is a great deal of law found in it, but not only law, and also true that the Talmud forms the basis – together, or based upon, the Torah – but not only so. Rather, as Elon also points out in one of their videos, Talmud is rather a book of Jewish thought. Jacob Neusner, one of the biggest scholars on Talmudic studies (in the academic world), describes it as a “fundamentally and deeply religious literature,” something he is right in. My own perception of the Talmud is that – though only formed and authored by a small number of Jews, compared to the overall number of Jews found through history – it is the piece of Jewish literature, forming and defining what it means to be “Jew” and what “Judaism” is. Of course, there has been differing understandings of what Judaism is, for example the Karaite Judaism, and it is not without a reason that scholars are talking about Rabbinites and Rabbinite Judaism, when they write on Jewish history – or rather on the history of Judaism. But still, if we are relating to Jewry of today, then the Talmud – together with the Bible, and none of them alone on their own – is the defining piece of literature, even when it comes to the Karaites and other Jewish groups/sects, which are more defining themselves in reaction to the Rabbinic teachings, as they are mainly defined by the Talmud, rather than on their own.

But yet the Talmud is a very mystical piece of literature for most. Many are talking about it, but not many know it. It is used against Jews, by antisemites promoting lies and distortions based on either faulty believes of the Talmud or fabricated claims of what it states. It is also being promoted as evidence of the genius of the Jews, as if it is some kind of superior writing, which can only be written by people of a certain intellectual level (which I tend to agree with, but not that this should something particularly Jewish).

The Talmud encourages thought, discussion, debate, curiosity, want for knowledge. It is never satisfied, until each and every stone has been turned, and nothing can be said for or against, besides what already has been said. And often it doesn’t even decide on a case, even then, at least not clearly. This in itself makes the Talmud curious, what is it that it wants to tell us? But also that it covers a span on 600 years of Jewish intellectual reactions to the changes of a rather turbulent world full of contrasts, relating to the meetings with various cultures and religions, and how the Jewish sages saw themselves, as well as the Jewish people as a whole, in contrast to these cultures and religions. It is a book by humans, on humans, in relation to humans, but all the time in connection to the Divine, and never does it back away from a difficult question.

So, go for it, at least allow yourself to be introduced to the world of Talmud, and give yourself the chance to understand the core of Jewish thought.

No more Tal Law (?)


Tuesday night the High Court of Israel banned the “Tal Law,” a law which allows religious Jews in Israel to study in a Yeshivah (a religious school) until the age of 22, where they can choose whether they want to enlist or not, and if choosing not to then whether they want to do army service for four month or civil service for a year.

The law, which was implemented in 2002, has been seen by some as giving some religious segments a free-pass from army service, while it has been explained as an attempt to make more religious Jews do army service. It hasn’t worked as planned though, and now the High Court has banned it, based on inequality of the citizens in Israel, allowing something to choose not to do what others are obliged to do, only based on religious convictions.

What does this mean? Well, for the next coming months not so much, but when the period for the law is ending, then it depends on what will come instead. Netanyahu has stated that he plans to establish a new law, which will “lead to a more just share of the burden of military service”, though we still need to see what that will offer. But I have a feeling that if it doesn’t offer anything near what the Tal Law offered, then we’re in for a lot of mess, probably seeing a lot of demonstration and rioting from the Haredim sector.


For me the question is not so much whether a group in Israel, or any society, should be permitted to study the creed of their religion for an extended time, as well as having the opportunity of evading the obligation of the normal citizen of the same society. Or actually it is, but I see it more broadly, should anybody in any given society be allowed to evade the general obligations of their society, based on their religious conviction? I don’t believe so. I do understand the basis for the banning of the Tal law, and I also agree with it, though I do also understand the frustration of the group, though not agreeing with them in that. Basically, if you want to be part of a society and have the same rights as everybody else, then you should also accept the same obligations. That is not to say that there shouldn’t be shown certain respects, for example showing respects to these people’s religious convictions in the army (there is a huge discussion about just that here in Israel as well).


Anyway, for me the banning of the Tal law signifies a step in the right direction down here, making Israel a more equal and just society. Now we just have so many more steps to take.